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Match play can work for the Tour with a little tinkering

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As golf fans, we are seldom exposed to the extremely electrifying format of match play golf. When such weeks arise on what has recently become a very full calendar of golf, it definitely sparks some more attention from the viewers, as we know we will get to witness a form of competition that is much different from our weekly dose of stroke play.

While the fans seem to love when the PGA Tour switches its scoreboard from “even” to “all square,” it appears that the actual Tour, or the gentlemen and ladies who represent it, might not feel as strongly as we do. It’s been just over a week since one of the most exciting renditions of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, where 23-year old Frenchman Victor Dubuisson had his “hello world” moment. After watching Dubuisson hit two of the most miraculous recovery shots that match play has ever seen, to the average viewer it seemed as though such a Sunday performance from Dubuisson and eventual champion Jason Day reinforced that this tournament is as alive and well as ever.

However, if last week at the Ritz Carlton Resort at Dove Mountain appeared to be really great for golf, and more specifically the match play event, then why did PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announce that the location and sponsor for next year’s championship is unknown?

Well, there isn’t too much to look into at this point as the details on the subject are far from concrete. However, from a sponsorship standpoint it’s pretty tough to wrap your head around the fact that half of the tournament’s field is on a plane home before the second round even begins. Even more so, from a TV perspective, it has to be difficult to get huge viewership when there are only four golfers to watch on Championship Sunday, especially when none of the names include Tiger, Rory or Phil.

When addressing the media on the subject on Championship Sunday in the desert last weekend, Finchem went on to say that “the idea that players can come and play a day and be gone has always been something that we kind of looked at and wondered whether another format would be (better).”

While Finchem went on to say that he wouldn’t assume they are going to change anything at this point, there have been conversations circulating about format change for the season’s first World Golf Championship, in an effort to keep the games top stars around for as long as possible. In his article on GolfChannel.com, Senior Writer Rex Hoggard made it known that a member of the PGA Tour Advisory Council confirmed the Tour has been looking to alter the format to 36 holes of stroke play, followed by a cut, with either the top-32 or top-16 players moving on to a match play format on the weekend.

So we have established some pretty basic points as to why a title sponsor might not be getting the bang for their buck when you look at the format of the WGC Match Play event. After all, the PGA Tour is a business. And as a business if something isn’t working, well then you better fix it. Out of principle, there are some people who may not agree with having a match play event that is actually half stroke play. But if it means seeing the best players in the world play for one more round, subsequently increasing viewership, revenue, and all that jazz, then sign me up!

Back to my point about the match play format, with regards to a regular Tour event, whereby only four players are left for the final round. If 4-to-6 hours of golf coverage is centered around one match, then shouldn’t that match mean a little more to the players, the viewers, the sponsors, etc., than every other Sunday on Tour? With the exception of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, a European Tour event that doesn’t attract the same star power as the WGC Match Play, we only get to see the best players in the world compete on in match play event one other week of the year — in the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup matches. The extreme sense of pride that comes with representing your country in these events, according to the players, undoubtedly outweighs the paycheck that comes with a victory at a regular Tour stop. But what if the payout for a match play event was substantially more than just your average $1 million-plus Sunday?

Since its inception in 2007, and including all of the changes to the format to the FedEx Cup playoffs, there always seems to be those who criticize how the Tour crowns its $10 million man. But the new format changes proposed by the Tour for the WGC Match Play would probably make the most amount of sense for the season-ending Tour Championship. Why not have the end of the season and The Playoffs, with one of the biggest purses in sports, end in dramatic fashion like the NCAA March Madness tournament? The first three Playoff events would remain the same, being played as stroke play events, while the Tour Championship could operate as a 32-man match play event. While it appears that people are not as interested in seeing a head-to-head match up for a regular event (even though the Match Play is a WGC), I am pretty confident that such a format — with $10 million on the line — would spark a greater interest level from the fans than the current finale to the PGA Tour season.

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Oliver Berg is a golf fanatic whose roots in the game were formed in the rugged and rocky golf links of Southern Ontario, Canada. By putting the pen to paper, or more appropriately, his fingers to the keyboard, Oliver turned his passion for ‘talking golf’ online by starting The High Fade Golf Blog. Oliver works in the digital marketing space in the fashion industry in Toronto and has applied what he’s learned from social media marketing to his own Instagram golf account - @thehighfade. Having grown up in a family of golfers, Oliver was given a special gift at young age from his grandmother -- a pillow that reads “Life’s a game, but Golf is serious” is something that he sleeps beside every night, and he pretty much lives by that!

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Denzgolf

    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Great idea for Fedex but rather than still run risk of losing top ranked in first round (and actually to keep MP format thought out) why not go down path of World cup soccer, 8 seeded pools of four (ranked by position in playoffs not world ranking) who each play 3 matchplay rounds with top 2 of each pool going through to 16 from where it becomes knockout. 7 rounds required, make it 8 with final as 36 holes. Now that’s either a lot of golf in four days or run it over 2 weeks at a course (32 down to 8 in week 1, 8 to winner Friday to Sunday – or 6 days in a week – it is for $10m. There’s a chance of 2 wins each by 3 of four players in a pool, but you just define beforehand that if that occurs the top two seeded from previous 3 playoff weeks go through. If desired to, reduce this risk by allowing all square finishes at 18 in pool matches for half points.

    • Denzgolf

      Mar 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      Obviously no one else really likes matchplay, not much but silence on this one???

  2. Phil C.

    Mar 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I’ve been mulling over the exact same thought for over a year dear author. I LOVE match play, love to play it, love to watch it, love the competitive clarity it brings among the players. And yet golf television starves me of it.

    Some of the most fun you’ve ever had sports with your friends was this virtual boxing ring you would construct with the big greats. Kobe vs Lebron, Lakers vs Celtics, Manning vs Brady. What does the golfer talk about hanging out at the bar? Tiger-bash? A conversation on course conditions which makes you wonder why a grown adult would have passionate arguments about grass texture? There simply is no head to head competition. Why not? Purists argue that golf is a pristine pursuit solely existing between the golfer and the course. I like to believe that is only the first step toward what golf will finally be. They would say that Seve Ballesteros, the great spanish short gamer, would in the heat of competition engage in small slights to push his match play opponents on edge. If a match play opponent would call for a free drop on some questionable obstructions he would then turn prickly. Questioning putting order on the green, questioning his opponents club choices, and any other small things to cloud his opponents head. While off the course he’d be known to be a good guy, his competitive nature turned him so HE WASN’T AFRAID TO BE THE BAD GUY.

    There is no “bad guy” in golf today. The closest thing we have is the disfunctional stockholm relationship we have with Tiger Woods. The golf channel tries to make the public care with a few 30 second bumpers describing the obscure names on the leaderboard, but to be honest the Joe Sunday watching isn’t going to care that Golfer #17 is a fade hitter from west palm florida if it has no interplay with any of the other golfers. And so it is shown on TV. Random golf shots here, random putt there. Golfer #1 hitting an approach, Golfer #32 out of a greenside bunker, Golfer #8 hitting out of the rough. No sense of where you are on the course (other than a small window indicating hole #), no sense of how you got there, and no sense of the gravity or brevity of the shot make shot play golf very difficult to watch. But I’ve got some ideas.

    #1 Format Change
    Tim Finchem must have stolen my bedside notebook because I have very similiar thoughts. Bring stroke play into the first 2 days. Match play into the final days. But here are the finer details. First 2 days the entire field plays 27 holes. Field is then cut to the top 32 players. Next day is stroke play, STROKE MATCHES PLAY TO 6 HOLES. 3 rounds of 6 hole matches are played to reduce the field to final four. Champ Sunday is the am 9 hole match to reduce the the final two, and then an afternoon 18 hole championship match.

    The first two days are loaded more simply to help qualm the argument that match play victim to luck and circumstance. That a match was won or loss because of a favorable course condition that happened at the time, or less skilled opponent. My rebuttal to that is that the players have played 54 holes of golf. If they aren’t in position to have a chance to win at the title, why exactly are they there? And more importantly, why does there need to be TV coverage of them?

    Match play hole count was reduced to 6 holes. To put it simply, MAKE EACH SHOT MATTER. The argument again, is that 6 holes is not enough time for evaluation of skill. But SKILL has already been evaluated with the first 2 days, now it is time to test the players ability to deal with PRESSURE. To deal with the moment that you’re stuck in the bushes on your last hole with your opponent on the green, and your options are exhausted. Take the drop you lose. re-hit your last shot with penalty you lose. You’re simply forced into an arena where the only ticket out is the amazing. And if we do not put players into such duress, we’re never going to see such amazing shots.

    All in all the big thing is to try and get more viewership to the game and help this game survive. Less dads and moms are playing golf and that means less kids will even be aware of the sport. I really do love this game, I just wish it wasn’t so laborious to watch it…

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: TrackMan’s Tour Operations Manager Lance Vinson Part 1 of 2

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with TrackMans Lance Vinson on an all things TrackMan and its presence on Tour. It’s such a deep dive that they needed two shows to cover it all.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

An open letter to golf

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Dear golf,

I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.

It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.

On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.

This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.

As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.

I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.

When you are able to return in full, I will be here.

Sincerely,

Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)

 

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact

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One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.

As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.

I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.

So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.

So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.

I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.

I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.

If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.

[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]

It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.

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